What Is Law?

Law (from Latin lege, meaning “to command”) is the set of rules that regulates human conduct. It shapes politics, economics, history and society in many ways.

The law is a source of study in many academic disciplines, including legal history, philosophy, sociology and economic analysis. It also raises important and complex issues about justice, equality and fairness. Law is usually understood as the set of rules and procedures governing the way a nation-state governs its citizens, but it covers a vast range of subjects.

Criminal law, for example, deals with conduct that is regarded as harmful to social order and may involve imprisoning or fining the guilty party. Civil law is concerned with settling disputes between individuals or organizations, and it includes contracts, property and tort law.

In the United States, law varies according to the type of legal system in use; civil law jurisdictions typically base their laws on statutes passed by legislatures, while common law countries tend to rely on judge-made precedent. Judges in a common law court often make decisions individually, but they also examine the legal literature and consult the decisions of other judges when making their rulings. This literature is called case law.

Law also encompasses such topics as bankruptcy, evidence and the rules of criminal and civil procedure. Other areas of law include the rights of foreigners in a country-state, family law, labour law and property law. Procedural law includes such topics as the discovery process, the docket, and the term en banc, which means “full bench,” and refers to cases heard by a court’s entire body of judges rather than by a panel of three judges.